Attendees at a gathering at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake on Sunday will hear about an ongoing study of the links between genetic mutations and breast and ovarian cancer.
Approximately 5 percent to 10 percent of all breast and ovarian cancers are hereditary. Some genes that may cause breast cancer include BRCA1, BRCA2, p53, and PTEN. Not everyone who carries a genetic mutation that causes breast or ovarian cancer will develop the disease, and researchers behind the study want to find other common links.
“The study is focusing on finding new genes,” said Lauren Carpiniello, a genetic counselor from NYU School of Medicine’s Human Genetics Department who will speak at Temple Emanuel on Sunday. “The genes we know about right now only account for a portion. There are other genes that have not been identified yet.”
The study’s second goal is to identify so-called modifier genes that interact with BRCA1 and BRCA2, which could increase or decrease risk.
Sunday’s event will include a 40-minute presentation on genetics and testing. Attendees will be able to participate in a saliva test; the results will remain confidential. The study is open only to women who have four Ashkenazi grandparents, because of the higher susceptibility to the disease among the Ashkenazi population.
The higher risk is due to what is known as a “founder effect,” Carpiniello explained.
“We think most Ashkenazis at this time can trace their roots back to a small Ashkenazi population,” she said. “If even a small number of people in that population had this genetic mutation, this mutation grows.”
Although the mutation might have historically been isolated, “it’s perpetuated across the generations,” she added.
Highlighting the importance of the research to the Jewish community, Sunday’s event is sponsored by Pascack Valley Hadassah, the YJCC of Washington Township, and sisterhoods from Temple Beth Or in Washington Township, Temple Beth Sholom of the Pascack Valley in Park Ridge, Cong. B’nai Israel in Emerson, and Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake.
“I feel really strongly about educating Jewish women about what their risks are and doing whatever I can,” said Susan Liebeskind, the Hillsdale resident coordinating the event with Carpiniello. “I’m excited all the sisterhoods from the Pascack Valley and Hadassah and the YJCC are working together to sponsor this event.”
Liebeskind’s grandmother and aunt survived bouts of breast cancer. Her husband’s aunt, who did not have the BRCA mutation, also had the disease.
“I really do hope in the next 10 to 15 years there can be some sort of breakthrough so my daughter,” Dara, 14, “can have some informed choices about her medical future,” Liebeskind said.
Men also can be carriers of the BRCA gene and pass it along, Carpiniello warned. Men are not included in the study, however, because cases of breast cancer within men are far less common.
Recruitment for the study began in August. So far, Carpiniello has signed up more than 300 women. Her goal is to reach 1,200. Signing up for the study provides no personal benefit but can help future research, she said.
“We hope we can develop better testing to be able to more precisely estimate somebody’s risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer,” she said. “So it’s really for the greater good.”
Participation in the study is anonymous and free of cost. For more information on Sunday’s event, which begins at 10 a.m., call Liebeskind at (201) 666-6696.